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From My Window

Shopping Now and Then

By Jane Thibodeau Martin


I simply refuse to have anything to do with Black Friday or Thanksgiving weekend shopping. To me it's just a great way to kill the joy of Thanksgiving itself. Knowing that I would be avoiding all retail locations except the feed mill (which is usually safe) the weekend after Thanksgiving, I sallied forth this past Friday morning early to do the necessary shopping for the week and Thanksgiving holiday needs. I was feeling smug that since I am retired, I could beat the weekend rush.

I had four stops to make, and what I thought was a well-thought out strategy to minimize the time it would take " unfortunately, I encountered packed stores everywhere I went before noon. It appeared many other people were trying to get a head start as well, so I resigned myself to a much slower trip than planned. I did spend some time musing about what I remembered about grocery shopping when I was small, tailing my mother around a tiny grocery store. And while I waited to check out, or for the mob around the celery to disperse, I had plenty of time.

My parents did their shopping at two establishments before the "birth" of the modern chain grocery stores, in the very late 50's and early 60's in Marinette County. One was "Lindsay's" on Piece Avenue in Marinette, owned, I think, by two brothers. The other was only a mile or so away, called "Ray's," where the single cash register was often staffed by Ray's wife. Not only were the stores completely different from the ones I stood in Friday " much smaller, family owned, wood floors; the number and variety of offerings were nothing like the huge range of choices we have now.

There was a "meat counter," with pre-cut meats on metal trays in a glass-fronted cooler cabinet. The butcher was on duty, with a white apron and hat. If you wanted pork chops he'd let you point at the exact ones you wanted " he'd weigh them, and then wrap them in tidy butcher paper packages tied with string and labeled with a marker or blue ink stamp. None of those nasty little impossible to recycle foam trays in those days. If he didn't have what you wanted on display, he'd disappear into the meat locker, haul out a big hunk of pork or beef, and hack off exactly what you wanted on request.

The produce section was very small " with the wares displayed in either wooden crates or wood-slat bushel baskets. Nothing there pre-wrapped on little trays, either. Potatoes came in very big paper sacks, with a small "viewing window" of open weave net in the front. I seem to recall bags as big, or even bigger than 50 pounds, and they were stored in our dark, cool basement. We kids would be sent to retrieve a pan full when Mom got ready to cook in the evening, and it was a hated task, since the basement was dark and scary and sticking your hand down in that big bag where there might be spiders seemed risky as well. I'd grab as few of the potatoes as I would think I could get away with presenting to Mom, and dash hell bent for leather back up the stairs as fast as I could go.

Soda only came in returnable bottles. I recall Ray's carried about four kinds, Coke and 7Up among them. One kind of cola, one kind of lemon-lime, one kind of root beer, and orange. No diet soda, no cans. We didn't get potato chips often, but they came in a really big paperboard box with two or even three plastic bags of chips inside the big box. There were no individual serving sizes of anything except the much-coveted Kellogg's cereal assortment, I think the originator of the single-serving craze that you see everywhere now. Pretty soon there will be single-serve packages of prunes.

When it was time to check out, little paper stickers or blue ink stamps on the food items told the cashier how much to manually ring in on the register, which stamped out a long slip of white paper with blue ink. There was no conveyor belt, each item was picked up and set back down by hand. Everything was carefully packed on the counter into sturdy paper bags or empty food boxes by the cashier or a young helper. This slow pace was not an issue, since there wasn't room in the store for more than 3 or 4 shoppers at a time, and the custom nature of the meat counter slowed the entire process down. It was expected, and no one was troubled by it.

I carry my own cloth shopping bags as I have a deep and abiding hatred of those little plastic bags you always get now, which blow all over our beautiful earth, floating in our waters and streaming in the wind from our trees. Paper bags are biodegradable and a much better choice, but retailers don't like them. The plastic bag industry plants sneaky little news stories about how terribly unsanitary cloth bags are. I wash my bags periodically and take my chances. I consider it a personal mission to make sure none of those plastic bags creating an eyesore on our landscape originated at my house. And don't get me started on how plastic bags have no shape, so they tumble all over in the trunk forcing me to retrieve loose cans or rolling oranges and repack the bags before carrying them into the house.

It did put me out of my internal rant about plastic bags when I shared the apple display with a woman attired in a burqua. Regretful about how hostile the climate in our country currently is for minorities, I made it a point to make eye contact and smile, and she shyly smiled back. She was doing her shopping like me, her concerns for her family are similar to mine, and it must be hard to go out in public, knowing she could encounter hostile reactions anywhere she went. Someone recently pointed out to me that burquas and similar garments are not that different from what was routinely worn by Catholic nuns when I was small, and framing her choice of an ultra-modest attire that way tends to make you think about the clothing differently. It would feel strange for me to dress that way, but what I wear would feel strange to her. I am sure a lot of well-dressed and carefully made-up women at "Sprouts" look at my beat-up jeans and Packer sweatshirt sprinkled with cat and dog hair and think I look strange too.

Because I live in a very large "metro-complex," I have a nearly limitless choice of stores, everything from mega-retailers to tiny specialty stores for meats, boutique produce and bakeries. When I relocate to Wisconsin, I will be driving about 10 miles to the nearest grocery store, (the only one there,) and will have a lot fewer decisions to make about shopping. I say, "Bring it on."

I wish all of you a safe Thanksgiving, and hope all of you feel that you have a lot to be thankful for.

You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: Janiethibmartin@gmail.com.


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